The Royal Academy of Engineering continued its “Innovation in…” series, hosting speakers and guests (including a robot named Eva) at our Innovation in Autonomous Systems event on Monday 22 June.


Personified, Philae-like robots often rise to the top of the national consciousness when discussing autonomous systems, but autonomy extends beyond traditional robotic areas to include self-driving vehicles, machine learning and sensor networks. The speaker agenda illuminated several different facets of this constantly evolving field, underscoring recent data from the Robotics and Autonomous System (RAS) Special Interest Group, which suggests that the UK has the potential to achieve a 10% share of a world market estimated to be worth £70 billion by 2020.


The keynote speaker was Professor Michael Beetz, Head of the Institute for Artificial Intelligence at the University of Bremen, who detailed the work his group is involved with in translating simple, but often ambiguous, human instructions into knowledge robots can act on. He also highlighted the cost reductions associated with effective knowledge-enabled programming systems and the need for the research community to work together to compete in the market place.


Keith Williams, Group VP of Intelligent Systems at Altran, shared important insights on the potential of autonomous systems for business and industry and cited the rapid climb of business investment in this area, feeding off simultaneous advances in big data, machine learning and the Internet of Things. Highlighting the direct correlation between industrial robots and productivity (if we applied automation to current levels of UK best-in-class, we could increase productivity by 22%), Mr Williams drew attention to encouraging regional developments, such as the establishment of Facebook’s new artificial intelligence lab in Paris.


Dr Oliver Payton, Research Associate at the University of Bristol and Dan Hook, Managing Director at Autonomous Surface Vehicles Ltd, both focused on the “why” of intelligent systems, speaking about the value of drones in radiation-mapping and marine vessels respectively. Mr Hook also highlighted the role of government as a customer in the pre-competitive employment of these technologies, thereby providing the opportunity to build markets in the UK with an advantage over competitors.


Event display: Miro, the biomimetic intelligent robot dog.

The subject of robot design for physical and social interaction was tackled by Professor Tony Prescott, Director at the Sheffield Centre of Robotics. Professor Prescott brought his subject to life by addressing the potential benefits that robotics could provide to the UK issue of the ageing population. With examples ranging from self-driving cars and exoskeletal walking aids, to pet-like “companion” devices, robots move one step beyond the existing field of tele-care and are actuators for technology that cares for the elderly.


The afternoon closed with lively independent panel discussion on the impact of autonomy in the UK over the next ten years, but before that, the audience heard from Professor Maria Fox, Professor of Computer Science at King’s College London. Professor Fox unpacked the role of automated planning and the importance of precisely timed switching strategies to maximise performance in multiple situations such as the lifetime of batteries in battery-powered systems – of great use to a soldier who these days has to carry as much as 16kg of batteries. She was succeeded on stage by Dr Jack Cohen, RAEng Enterprise Fellow at the University of Warwick, and the day’s final speaker, who shared an intriguing demonstration of a three-dimensional interactive desktop environment that included a virtual pen accurate to a millimetre and discussed the potential for head-mounted displays in the professional setting.


The palpable energy of all the speakers and the volume of audience questions, with conversations extending into the drinks reception, is testament to the growing relevance of the subject of intelligent and autonomous systems. The Royal Academy of Engineering would like to thank our excellent event Chair, Professor David Lane FREng FRSE, Founder and Director of the Edinburgh Alliance in Robotics and Autonomous Systems, all our speakers and guests for their contribution to a successful event.


Notes for Editors

Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK's national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK's role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK's world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook. We have four strategic challenges: Drive faster and more balanced economic growth; foster better education and skills; lead the profession; promote engineering at the heart of society.



For more information please contact:

Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering 

T:| 020 7766 0636
E:|  Jane Sutton

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